Genderless Uproar

            I’ve been consistently wondering why many normative people who respect pronoun choices of gender normative trans individuals don’t respect gender neutral pronouns and continue to misgender a person based on what they believe that person’s birth sex is.  Many use the excuse that the pronouns are hard or unintuitive sounding, but let’s get real: the pronoun “they” has been used in the English language for centuries, and it’s ridiculously easy to start using “they” with people who claim it.

            Maybe I’m biased, but I consistently get “she” when I tell trans*-friendly allies that I prefer “they,” and yet these same people correct themselves when they misgender my other friends.  I’m starting to seriously doubt the “difficulty” of mastering gender neutral pronouns since my well-intentioned friends take little action to even correct themselves when they don’t get it right.  Yes, I’m ranting, but my identity continues to be masked behind this justification of using the wrong pronoun from my birth sex, and it I think comes from mainstream’s detestation of polygender and agender identities.

            Take a look at this video, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJPYSWaWskw)  A Canadian family is attempting to rear their child genderless.  Whether or not this can be achieved as a result of intense socialization of gender norms outside of personal identification does not matter here.  It is the “firestorm of controversy” this decision has brought about from the voices of normative citizens that makes me believe “genderlessness” is hated.

            I’m going to start with what slightly bothered me about the video.  First, responders attempted to claim that these parents were putting their child through a “social experiment” to spite mainstream society, as if that were their real goal instead of trying to raise their child in the way that makes the child feel the most comfortable. 

           Next, the biased news cast kept subtly trying to gender the child, emphasizing “he or she” and “his or her” whenever possible.  While one could argue “he or she” is a valid mainstream language choice, the news cast did a few other problematic things like using biological sex and gender identity as interchangeable words, implying the illegitimacy of genderlessness as a result of the assumed impossibility of sexlessness since the parents “won’t be able to [hide the sex] for very long,” and suggesting that it is the parents’ job to reveal their children’s gender identities to them (via the implied justification of gender identity through biological sex) rather than the other way around.

            The parents themselves presented some contestable claims.  They’re trying to advance the claim that individual choice in the face of intense socialization is both possible and something to strive for.  This “tribute to freedom and choice in a place of limitation” (despite their limiting expectation of their child to “finally choose” their gender identity someday) is ridiculous since individuals rarely have an actual say in their own presentations of their identities resulting from intense pressures from family, friends, and mainstream media.  In addition, championing individual freedom cannot be possible in a world where disciplinary power works to degrade individuals who don’t conform, and biopower works to enforce the norms and expectations of disciplinary power on the level of populations.  We cannot actually choose our own gender, genders, or lack of gender if we are presented with only two options, ridiculed if we do not choose the option that mainstream culture claims matches our “true sex,” and targeted for violence on the basis of lack of conformity.

            And now for the part that really ticks me off.  Some privileged psychologist “expert” (see http://www.docmikebradley.com/about_me.html to get an idea of his white, cis, het, male, economic privilege) claims that this child nonconsensually suffers or will suffer from their parents’ decision to rear them without gender: “the parents are imposing this role on the child.”  Let’s back up here.  Is “forcing” a child to be reared genderless really nonconsensual when mainstream parents continually force their children to conform to gender roles that are justified by their biological sex?  I continually heard “boys do ____, and girls do ____” from parents, friends, and mainstream media throughout my entire childhood.  I was, and continue to be, nonconsensually shoved into a gender box “girl” because I have “girl parts,” and this psychologist somehow seems to think that that’s ok and that giving the child some sort of choice over the matter (whether it is really individual choice or not) is not consensual?  What?

            To continue with this nonsense, the “expert” also suggests that those who pursue genderless identity are objects: “this child is not asking to be this thing” (my emphasis added).  He then goes on to use military language to describe what the child’s parents hoped was a phenomenon of choice: “this kid’s being drafted into a war that may hurt him or her terribly.”  This enormous disrespect for humans without gender, no matter how ridiculous the metaphor sounds, parallels mainstream implications that agender or polygender identities do not or should not exist.

            No wonder my pronouns are never respected.  This implicit assumption that genderlessness is akin to the level of objects rather than beings appears every time someone I know continues to “she” me after I explicitly told them that “anything but ‘he’ or ‘she’ is fine.”  I’d like to think that it’s the inconvenience of gender neutral pronouns rather than implicit disgust that motivates most of my friends’ desires to continue to (mis)gender me, but I’m starting to think that if they really cared about getting someone’s pronouns right, they’d respect mine, no matter how inconvenient it is for them. 

           As I start to move toward a more agender and polygender identification, I fear the expectation to either gender myself or let myself be normatively gendered according to the heterosexual matrix.  I cannot stress how frustrating it is to still be expected to fit a female/feminine/het role or a male/masculine/het role within ally spaces or even queer spaces.  For instance, many continue to shove me into a “she” pronoun and therefore a “woman” role justified by the “female” parts I have, while at the same time they respect someone else’s male pronoun and desire for a “man” role despite his “female” parts.  Both my more normative trans* friend and myself, in this case, deserve the pronouns we want, regardless of what identities, normative or otherwise, we take on with those pronouns.  When a person justifies a pronoun I don’t want from my sex, and when that pronoun justifies a normative “woman” role I cannot take on, while at the same time that person respects a pronoun my friend wants that somehow justifies a normative “man” role he may nor may not want, that person works to reinforce the matrix of normative identities relying on the conformity to strict roles of masculine aggression by “men” and feminine submission by “women.”  

          When people ask for different pronouns, they don’t always automatically ask to be seen under different roles or identities.  Justifying a specific gender role with a certain pronoun is as bad as justifying a pronoun from sex, and both of these things work together to degrade the lives of those who seek gender neutral pronouns but are continually gendered “he” or “she” on the basis of their “true sex.”  Only respecting a person’s pronouns if they conform to the strict matrix conception of masculine aggression and feminine submission roles of the het matrix is unacceptable.  Defining me because I’ve left myself undefined is unacceptable. 

-Ash Kulak

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More Appeals to Normativity? I give up.

            When cis-normative gay communities dump all gender transgressions onto the word “trans,” some trans communities themselves are resistant to pick up the queer pieces of their identities.  The inherent issue with the creation of an umbrella term so vast it covers all gender transgressive experience is that not every gender-transgressive person who self-identifies under this umbrella can possibly have the same experience as the next gender non-conforming human.  So when trans individuals seeking medical resources shove themselves into gender-normative boxes to cater to medical gatekeepers, they sacrifice the visibility and even viability of those who call themselves “trans” but refuse to let go of the incoherencies of their queer gender identities.

            Picking apart those who identify with the traditional trans narrative as wanted by medical gatekeepers is not, however, what I’m after with this post.  Anyone who identifies as trans should be able to identify with any narrative of their choosing.  This becomes complicated when we have a messy umbrella term defined by the mere presence of gender non-conformity and when medical gatekeepers dictate a one-sided trans experience that alienates those who do not identify under those strict guidelines, forces trans-identified individuals seeking medical resources to adopt narratives they may not necessarily identify with, and shoves those who do identify with the traditional narrative onto a pedestal of normativity that they may or may not desire.

            I’m going to focus here on trans masculine-leaning genderqueer humans because I have more personal experience with this kind of alienation from trans spaces.  Dean Spade describes this phenomenon very well.  If trans masculine-identified individuals have to appeal to a normative “I was a man born in a female body” narrative to get medical resources, then “the most ‘successful’ FTMs [resemble] khaki-clad frat boy clones” (Spade 28).  While this is an exaggeration, the point is that the “perfect” FTM seeks a normative (macho, hetero, misogynist, etc.) masculinity acceptable within mainstream society.  Where does that leave the rest of us genderqueers who identify as feminine or queer in terms of sexuality or feminist?  With nowhere to go.

            I know what this is like.  I don’t belong in cis-normative gay spaces because I’m not cis, and I don’t belong in trans masculine spaces because I’m not “trans enough.”  There are no resources for me within either community because either my gender transgressions throw me under this trans umbrella term, or because the normative focus in trans masculine spheres is transition so much that I cannot just exist in those spaces without being pushed to be gendered male or try T. 

            Here are a few examples.  I have a very complicated relationship with pronouns.  I abhor them.  I feel awkward when I am gendered as he and she, so for those who don’t acknowledge the existence of gender-neutral pronouns, I won’t ever feel like they’re getting it right.  I don’t feel “wholly joyous when I get called ‘sir’ or ‘boy’” (Spade 22) because I have this enormously complicated relationship with pronouns in general and with my own fluctuating gender performance in that moment.  How can I ever fit into trans masculine circles if I don’t have a deep desire for male pronouns or experience the same giddiness as most normative trans guys do when they are gendered male?

            I’m on the Indy Boyz listserv, an email list of those who identify as trans or trans masculine-leaning genderqueer in Indiana/Indianapolis area.  Almost every email that comes across my laptop echoes the same things over and over again.  Focus: transition.  One specific email I came across the other day came from a trans guy who just came out to himself after years of internal struggle.  It certainly surprised me when he spelled out a huge list of all of the things he hoped to accomplish (coming out immediately to his family, changing his name, starting T, saving for top surgery, finding a plastic surgeon, and finally having top surgery) just after he came out to himself. 

             While I acknowledge the validity of his experience, I wonder if the transition image of trans guys on the internet (which is usually the only accessible image of trans guys on the internet) influenced this guy’s immediate decision to act and pursue transition.  And if that is the case, why did he so easily conform to this transition image?  I believe it’s because genderqueer expression is policed out of normative trans masculine circles.  Medical gatekeepers have such strict guidelines for access to resources that trans guys themselves feel so compelled to police the gender expression of other trans guys or trans masculine-identified humans.

              The pressure to conform to this transition model within trans masculine circles is astounding.  Not only will other trans guys look at you sideways if you perform gender in ways that aren’t “man enough,” but some will also outright tell you that you are not “trans enough” to exist in a community for gender non-conforming people.  So gender non-conforming humans get kicked out of a gender non-conforming space because the normative trans guys are the new gender police.  Beautiful.  Just when I thought I had a community to go to where I could express my gender transgressions freely (because isn’t that what the umbrealla term trans is supposed to signify?), I am rejected because I’m not “trans enough,” and now I have no community with which to share stories.  If I can’t fit in with cis-normative gay communities, and if I can’t fit in with narrative-normative trans communities, I begin to ask the question “why bother?” (Spade 28).

            I would like to suggest an alternative way of thinking about genderqueer alienation before I start to fizzle down the “I do not want to live on this planet” path.  Gender policing alienates genderqueer expression.  When cis-normative or trans-normative individuals police queer gender expressions directly or indirectly, “they foreclose norm-resistant possibilities” (Spade 28).  Gender policing exists because we have a dichotomous normative versus deviant way of thinking about gender.  When mainstream society throws gender transgressions into an umbrella, they throw us into the “deviant” category and then chastise that category for existing and compare it to their own normative category set up as the false “original” or “normal” gender category. 

            This binary thinking exists to oppress anyone under the deviant umbrella category, and the oppression becomes more severe as one becomes more deviant because the oppression comes from both outside and within those in the umbrella itself who in some way appeal to the normative category.  In these ways, how can the trans community call itself a community when its creation was dictated by those who called us “other” and threw us into a term that cannot possibly encompass all of our queer identities?  Queer identities will always be alienated from “queer-identified” spaces whenever those spaces represent some overarching umbrella of deviance that cannot possibly represent everyone and/or somehow seeks normativity because it is part of a “you versus us” dichotomy.

             My frustration over these issues boiled over when I read Spade’s article.  As a gender non-conforming human, I feel like I ironically cannot fit within any queer space because most “queer” spaces have actually become slightly deviant versions of normative spaces.  I refuse to remain a part of a space that polices my behavior in an attempt to make me more normative.  After reading this article, I wanted to pack up and move away from every person on the planet because I can’t stand the pressure to choose pronouns or justify myself to people (both cis and trans) anymore.  Without the ability to find and access a community of people like me because the queer is alienated from most “queer” spaces, there’s no point in trying to belong to a community that continually tries to change me.  I’d rather separate from everyone than conform and live as at most half of myself.

              Maybe my pessimism has gone on far too long unchecked (I acknowledge the lengthiness and rant-like language of this blog), but until I find queers who can’t put a name to their sexualities or genders or lack of either, I will continue to be frustrated with “queer communities” that try to shove me into normative boxes.  I do not play by your gender rules, and I will not flail around in your normative spaces.  Why bother?

 

This is a link to the trans enough project.  It provides more solid examples of how (mostly) normative trans guys police gender expression.  The problematic part of this project is that it does not have a more diverse range of queer voices.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gukzQ5eLrVc 

 

-Ash Kulak